$340 crutches? SEIU-UHW reveals outrageous pricing at L.A. hospitals

[Jan. 29, 2014] LOS ANGELES – At Providence St. Joseph Medical Center in Burbank they charge almost $300 for an ankle brace, while at a Walgreens down the street it costs $21. At Prime Centinela Medical Center in Inglewood, one aspirin costs $21, which is 350 times the price found on Amazon.com.

Those are just some of the high prices California healthcare workers revealed today as they launched a signature gathering campaign to qualify a statewide ballot initiative that ends overpricing by hospitals. The measure would reduce hospital prices in California by at least $3 billion a year.

“More than half of all the private hospitals in the Los Angeles area are nonprofit institutions whose charitable mission is to provide healthcare to the community. But instead they are price gouging the public,” said Dave Regan, President of SEIU-United Healthcare Workers West (SEIU-UHW). “Our initiative will put a stop to it.”

Approximately 505,000 signatures of registered California voters are needed to qualify the initiative for the November 2014 ballot; signatures must be submitted in mid-April.

In addition to high prices on basic products, like over-the-counter pain medication, some hospitals are charging far above the state average for certain medical procedures. According to state reports, Providence Holy Cross Medical Center charges $36,000 for a normal delivery – more than twice the state average of $17,700. Cedars-Sinai Medical Center charges $66,700 for an appendectomy, while the state average is only $38,300.

“The bill collector calls me all the time and I don’t know what I’m going to,” said Cecilia Flores, a Los Angeles resident who was uninsured in 2010 when she was seriously injured in a car accident and received a $235,000 bill from Cedars-Sinai Medical Center. “If I had insurance it would have all been taken care of, but more than three years after the accident I still can’t escape it.”

The statewide ballot initiative, the Fair Healthcare Pricing Act of 2014, prohibits hospitals from charging more than 25 percent above the actual cost of providing patient care. On average, California hospitals charge 320 percent more than the actual cost of providing care in their facilities. The two hospitals that charge the most in Los Angeles are Olympia Medical Center, which marks up prices 730 percent, and Whittier Hospital Medical Center, which marks up prices 603 percent.

According to the Office of Statewide Health Planning and Development, California hospitals subject to this ballot initiative charged $233.8 billion in 2012 – even though their operating expenses were only $54.5 billion. Locally, Cedars-Sinai charged $9.3 billion for expenses totaling $2.3 billion, and Providence Holy Cross billed $2.3 billion for operating expenses of $344 million.

The ballot measure addresses the root cause of skyrocketing premiums in California. Between 2002 and 2013, health insurance premiums in California increased 170 percent, which is more than five times the rate of inflation during that period.

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Paid for by Yes for a Healthy California, sponsored by Service Employees International Union, United Health Care Workers West. Major funding by Service Employees International Union, United Health Care Workers West and California State Council of Service Employees Issues Committee.

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